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By Nick Elisano, Cape Regional Miracles Fitness

If you want to get serious about fitness, monitoring your heart rate could be a key component. To achieve your goals, you need to find a proper level of intensity or heart-rate zone where your workout yields safe, efficient, and beneficial results.

To start, you first need to understand your maximum heart rate (MHR), or the peak amount of beats your heart has the potential to reach. Calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. For example, if you're 45 years old, subtract 45 from 220 to get a maximum heart rate of 175.

Once you know your MHR, calculate your desired heart rate training zone — the level at which your heart is being exercised and conditioned but not overworked.

The American Heart Association recommends a general target heart rate of:

- Moderate exercise intensity: 50 to about 70 percent of your maximum heart rate

- Vigorous exercise intensity: 70 to about 85 percent of your maximum heart rate

If you're just beginning a program, aim for the lower end of your target zone. Then, gradually build up the intensity. If you are healthy, opt for the higher end of the zone.

So how do you know if you're in your target heart rate zone? There are three tried and true methods:

The Manual Method

Stop exercising for a moment and take your pulse for 6 seconds over your carotid artery. Place your index and third fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe. Multiply this number by 10 to calculate your beats per minute. Other methods suggest taking your pulse over 15 seconds and multiply the number of beats by 4. This method can be accurate but the quicker you locate and determine your heart rate the more accurate you will be. Waiting for 15 seconds may not represent the most accurate measurement.

The Tech Way

There are a variety of heart rate monitor models on the market but at Cape Regional Miracles Fitness, I recommend Myzone, an accurate, heart rate monitoring system that uses wireless technology to convert the personal data into Myzone Effort Points (MEPs). Heart Rate is displayed on screens throughout the facility that show a users heart rate and color-coded heart rate training zone so users can exercise and see their heart rate in real-time.

Rate of Perceived Exertion

Another method to determine your appropriate level of intensity is using a Rate of Perceived Exertion chart. This is a subjective measure where you rate how you feel on a scale of 1-10 with 1 representing the least amount of intensity and 10 being maximal intensity(effort). The ideal Rate of Perceived Exertion would fall somewhere between 4 and 6 on this scale representing “moderate” to “somewhat hard” exertion level.

This is the preferred source of measurement for people on certain medications called beta-blockers. Beta-blockers are prescribed to treat high blood pressure and a variety of cardiac conditions. They will lower the heart rate, therefore the heart rate at any level of exertion will be blunted or limited. This makes calculating a target heart rate almost impossible for this population.

Regardless of what method you chose, monitoring your fitness and health via heart rate or the rate of perceived exertion helps you get the most from your workouts but ensuring you are exercising at the proper exercise intensity for you.

For more information on using Heart Rate training to improve your health and fitness or any programs offered at Cape Regional Miracles Fitness, contact them at 609-886-7070 or visit their facility in Rio Grande in the Joe Canal’s Plaza.